Who is Hassan Rouhani?

The claim that Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, is a “moderate,” with whom Western leaders can do business on the basis of mutual self-interest, brings to mind an earlier fantasy common among elites in the West.

Rouhani on the phone 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Rouhani on the phone 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The claim that Hassan Rouhani, the new president of Iran, is a “moderate,” with whom Western leaders can do business on the basis of mutual self-interest, brings to mind an earlier fantasy common among elites in the West after the death of the Soviet dictator, Leonid Brezhnev, in 1982: that his successor as General Secretary, Yuri Andropov, was a closet liberal eager to reduce the tensions of the Cold War, then nearly four decades old, and thereby make nuclear war less likely.
The evidence of Andropov’s moderation was his supposed fondness for scotch whiskey, the novels of Jacqueline Susann and such icons of American popular music as Glenn Miller, Frank Sinatra and Chubby Checker. By some accounts a witty conversationalist conversant in German, English and Hungarian, the new Soviet leader was even reputed to dance the tango gracefully.
Trumpeting this information – which in reality was Soviet disinformation – with the breathless intensity of those who think wishing hard enough for something makes it real, Time, The Washington Post, The Christian Science Monitor, The New York Times and other pillars of establishment opinion in the West didn’t bother to consider whether Andropov’s personal preferences bespoke a loss of faith in Marxism- Leninism or a diminution of the ardor with which the Soviet leadership sought to spread communism.
In fact, Andropov, when he succeeded Brezhnev, was the same man who, as Soviet ambassador in Budapest in 1956, oversaw the destruction of the Hungarian Revolution; it was Andropov who, after the revolution was suppressed, falsely promised its leader, Imre Nagy, who had taken refuge in the Yugoslav embassy, that he would be treated leniently if he turned himself in. Foolishly Nagy did so, and was flown to Moscow, where he was imprisoned and, less than two years later, hanged.
As General Secretary, Andropov almost certainly issued the order for Soviet fighter planes to shoot down Korean Airlines flight 007, in which all 269 passengers lost their lives, over international waters and in violation of international law.
And Andropov’s treatment of Soviet dissidents was no less cruel and repressive than it was from 1967 to 1982, when he headed the KGB and in that capacity ordered dissidents imprisoned, incarcerated in labor camps, exiled abroad or internally to cities far from Moscow or, worst of all, declared insane and committed to psychiatric hospitals, where they were given mind-altering drugs that reduced some to a vegetative state.
Rouhani’s record is even worse: he planned the bombing of a Jewish Community Center in Buenos Aires in 1994, which took 85 lives, and of the Khobar Towers in Saudi Arabia in1996, in which 19 American soldiers were killed. He refuses to acknowledge that the Holocaust happened, and claims that in any case it is something only historians should be concerned with.
He has also called Israel “a wound” on the Middle East that must be removed. His boast about deceiving the West into believing that Iran, from 2003 to 2005, had stopped enriching uranium is well known, and there is no evidence of his having the slightest objection to his own government’s savage persecution of Bahais and others in Iran professing a religion other than Shi’ite Islam.
One can only hope President Barack Obama and his counterparts in Europe, now engaged in yet another round of futile negotiations with Iran, will recognize that men like Andropov and Rouhani who acquire positions of power share the beliefs, objectives and policies of the repressive regimes they lead, and are not about to repudiate them because of any personal habits they have or because they talk in tones suggesting they are amenable to reason.
The potential consequence of not doing so – the detonation of nuclear weapons as an act of war for the first time since 1945 – would be catastrophic.The writer is professor of history at Central Connecticut State University and the author, most recently, of Meeting the Demands of Reason: The Life and Thought of Andrei Sakharov.